Drafted in the 6th round (152nd overall) in 2008, Mark Barberio is one of just a few prospects still in the organization from the pre-Yzerman/Vinik era, and one of only a small handful of true "offensive defenseman" prospects in the system.
A two-time AHL-All Star and one-time Eddie Shore Award winner (the Norris Trophy equivalent in the AHL) and a key contributor to the 28-game winning streak Calder Cup-winning, Jon Cooper-coached Norfolk Admirals squad from 2011-2012, Barberio has in recent years plateuaed a bit as other defense prospects leap over him on the depth chart.
With that said, he's still a well-regarded prospect just one injury away from regular NHL minutes as we found out on opening night this season against the Boston Bruins.
Here's how the panel ranked Barberio:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Clark Brooks||Clare Austin||Patti McDonald||Mike Gallimore|
There was a fairly even consensus here among our rankers, so there aren't any outlier opinions worth highlighting in favor of or opposition to Barberio.
He scored a league-high (for defenseman) 13 goals and 48 assists for 61 points during that Eddie Shore and Calder Cup season, but regressed a bit the next year after some turnaround at the AHL level (and losing his coach midway through the season) finishing 2012-2013 with a respectable 8 goals and 34 assists for 42 points. For his AHL career, he still sits at a superb 0.62 PPG with 215 games played + another 42 playoff games where he has almost the exact same production - 0.60 PPG.
Given the scoring equivalency of the AHL and Barberio's rather large sample size of AHL games, it's quite reasonable to assume that, if given top-6 defense group minutes over the course of a full 82-game season, Barberio would score somewhere between 20-25 points, which is actually quite good for a defenseman. In the last full (82-game) season the Lightning played, the leading point-getters from the blue line for the Bolts were Marc-Andre Bergeron (24 points) and Victor Hedman (23 points) so there's reason to believe that, at least offensively, Barberio could make big contributions to the Lightning right away should he ever make it into the lineup on a consistent basis.
Of course, that's taking into account his strengths -- skating, vision, passing, and a strong, if not Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber-esque, shot from the point. He's one of the only defensemen in the system that can quarterback a power play, something that right now Jon Cooper is asking Matt Carle and Sami Salo to do. While those players are fine in that spot at the top of an umbrella formation -- Carle is a good distributor and Salo is always a threat from the center point with his hard shot -- Barberio can do both of those things quite well. He's undoubtedly a better skater than Salo and likely a touch faster than Carle, so he also helps alleviate some of the risks with running an umbrella with only one defenseman on the unit, which is something Tampa Bay loves to do.
The issue with getting him into the regular lineup still rests not with his strengths, but his weaknesses. He's prone to more own-zone gaffes than you'd expect for a player with his pro experience, and as you'd expect with any offensively-minded defenseman, knowing when to jump into the play and when to rotate back into coverage is still a challenge. Even then, knowing your position and making your decision is one thing -- having the confidence to do it at full-speed without hesitation is quite another, as we saw with Chris Kelly's shorthanded penalty shot goal on opening night:
He makes a good first pass out of the zone but struggles a bit in board battles in the corners and in front of the net, particularly against bigger forwards. While the rest of the blue line is, for now, healthy, it's probably not a coincidence that Barberio hasn't gotten into another game after the bad outing on opening night.
Languishing in the pressbox certainly isn't a good place for Barberio, but the organization couldn't risk exposing him to waivers to send him down to the AHL Syracuse Crunch this season. Their hand was forced into keeping him up with the big club, which would be fine considering there was a spot open for competition in the top-6 defense group alongside Eric Brewer. Unfortunately for Barberio, Andrej Sustr claimed it and doesn't look like he's giving it up anytime soon.
In hindsight, giving him his only game against the Bruins probably wasn't a fair test of his skill-set. I'd be curious to see how he performed against a smaller skill/finesse club that doesn't send so many physical forwards in on the forecheck, but with the continuing emergence of Andrej Sustr, it might take an injury (Sami Salo is certainly prone to them) to get Barberio some more NHL exposure.